Each year the NTSB releases its “Most Wanted List” of Safety Improvements. This year there is a real focus on charter operators (also known as Part 135 operators). A charter operator normally rents out the entire aircraft whereas a commercial operator sells a seat to a passenger. As a passenger on a charter aircraft you can fly to smaller airports, without TSA and you don’t have to worry about being bumped. But the safety rules are markedly different for these different carriers.
Currently, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) does not require Federal Aviation Regulations part 135 operations to meet the same safety requirements as commercial airlines. These operations include air tour, air medical service, air taxi, charters and on-demand flights.
So the Board is urging aircraft operators and organizations to voluntarily take charge of improving day-to-day operations, rather than waiting for regulations or accidents to force action.
While it is mandatory for part 135 helicopter operators to have controlled flight into terrain (CFIT)-avoidance training in place, it is not required for other 135 operators. The Board suggests programs like safety managements systems (SMS) and flight data monitoring (FDM) should be implemented by these organizations to improve safety and avoid accidents.
A lot of folks believe that there are “black boxes” on every aircraft. Such flight data recording devices are only required to be affixed to commercial aircraft, not charters. These are reasonable and inexpensive safety measures that can and should be taken.
The NTSB is also focusing on improving occupant safety. The NTSB states that numerous aviation related deaths and injuries have been caused by “inadequate evacuation procedures and crashworthiness.”
Last year, the NTSB’s recommendations regarding crash resistant fuel systems (CRFS) were addressed by the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018. This called for all newly manufactured helicopters to be equipped with CRFS. This change was brought about after horrific helicopter crashes in which passengers and pilots survived the crash but died from burn injuries or suffered severe burns.
In announcing their Most Wanted List, the NTSB referenced other aviation safety related topics such as distractions, fatigue, and alcohol and drug impairments. The NTSB Open Safety Regulations document can be found here.
I often think about the safety improvements that I would like to see. I have so many, but here is my short list of “most wanted” safety improvements to protect passengers, crew and pilots:
- Hot coffee, tea or soup near children or infants on an airline. Don’t do it. We see far too many of these types of injuries. The safety fix here is for the airlines to avoid serving hot beverages around children and infants.
- Real time weather in cockpits. Here is a surprising fact, you might be flying as passenger and have access to all kinds of weather information via internet in back while your commercial pilot might not have access to real time weather. It is true and scary. The safety fix would be to ensure that all commercial pilots have access to real time weather via internet.
- Including a family member representative as part of the NTSB investigation of the crash. Currently only manufactures, aircraft owners and operators are allowed to participate in the NTSB investigation. This allows the fox to guard the henhouse, it permits the potentially at fault party to steer the NTSB away from learning why the crash actually occurred. I have never seen a manufacturer step up and say “oh, that was our fault, we made a bad part.” By including a family member representative in the actual investigation, we would get closer to the truth. That truth would then save lives.
If you could publish your “most wanted list” of aviation safety improvements, what would it be?